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IMPLICATIONS OF THE PUERTO RICO POLITICAL STATUS PLEBISCITE
December 13, 1998
The Results Of The Recent Vote In
In Puerto Rico's plebiscite on December 13, 1998, statehood was
approved by 46.5% of the voters, the highest number of votes among
four legally defined political status options presented on the
Among the other status options recognized under U.S. law, independence
received 2.5% voter approval, a constitutionally accurate definition
of the current commonwealth garnered a scant 0.1%, and independence
with a treaty of free association won only 0.2% of the votes cast.
A fifth "None of the Above" option on the ballot received
50.2% of the vote.
The Results Represent A Necessary
Step In The Self-Determination Process For Puerto Rico.
It had become imperative to dispel the confusion created by a
1993 plebiscite, in which the highest number of votes (48%) were
cast in favor of a legally inaccurate and constitutionally invalid
definition of commonwealth.
The assertion made in the 1993 ballot that commonwealth conferred
a non-territorial and constitutionally permanent form of union
with guaranteed U.S. citizenship in perpetuity had been rejected
by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Executive Branch,
as well as both chambers of Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court.
That is why another vote with only legally sound and politically
realistic options was needed to begin the status resolution process.
What Do The Results Mean For Congress
In The Long Term?
Both the 1993 and 1998 plebiscites were conducted under local
law after Congress failed to approve federal plebiscite legislation
defining the available choices to achieve a permanent status.
In the absence of a clear congressional policy on the status
of Puerto Rico, many voters apparently remain unwilling to choose
among legally recognized status options. However, the 1998 plebiscite
results -- in contrast to 1993 -- do not let Congress off the
hook by endorsing an unrealistic and implausible definition of
commonwealth that Congress can simply ignore.
Instead, the 1998 "None of the Above" vote demonstrates
that the self-determination process for Puerto Rico will remain
inert until Congress authorizes a federal plebiscite which defines
for the voters the terms for statehood, separate sovereignty or
continuation of the current status under the territorial clause
powers of Congress.
Since both the current territorial status and any form of separate
sovereignty have been rejected, and since surveys consistently
show that Puerto Ricans place an extremely high value on their
American citizenship, the real question is whether there is any
option other than statehood through which permanent union and
irrevocable citizenship can be achieved.
Congressional Sponsored Plebiscite
The 1998 plebiscite confirms the need for Congress to ascertain
the will of the people of Puerto Rico among options Congress is
willing to consider. This can be accomplished only if Congress
sponsors a referendum under Federal law and informs the voters
of the terms for continuing the current status or changing to
a new status.
Historical And Legal Basis For Puerto
Rico Status Process
The last time Congress exercised its territorial clause power
and authority under the Treaty of Paris to define the status and
rights of residents of Puerto Rico was in 1950, when U.S. Public
Law 600 authorized establishment of a commonwealth system of self-government
in matters Congress considered local. Establishment of commonwealth
was expressly based on consent of the voters in a referendum sponsored
Status Quo Commonwealth Rejected
The overwhelming rejection of commonwealth as it exists under
P.L. 600 now means only Congress can establish a process to restore
government by consent. In the absence of action by Congress, Puerto
Rico is once again in the same condition it was prior to 1950.
The U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico remain disenfranchised in
the federal political process to which they are subject, and administration
by the U.S. under the commonwealth created by Congress is not
a consensual or fully self-governing status.
Issues Congress Must Address In The
The historical reality emerging from the somewhat tortured self-determination
process in Puerto Rico is that 97% of the voters want permanent
union, irrevocable U.S. citizenship for all future generations
of Puerto Ricans, and "state-like" treatment in the
U.S. political, budgetary and economic system. 46.5% of the voters
believe Puerto Rico must assume equal responsibilities to get
equal rights, and that statehood is the only constitutionally
permanent form of union.
Not surprisingly, 50.2% of the voters still want to know if
Congress can or will constitutionally guaranty continuation of
the current $10 billion annual subsidy of "state-like"
treatment for commonwealth while it remains an enclave of cultural,
linguistic and political separatism under the American flag.
That means Congress will have to decide if a status based on
a trade off of less than equal civil rights and disenfranchisement
of 3.8 million U.S. citizens in exchange for limited Federal benefits
is in the national interest as we enter a new century. Those who
support continuation of commonwealth must now justify it.
Thus, commonwealth supporters in Puerto Rico must explain why
Federal spending should continue while Puerto Rico enjoys a free
ride on income taxes and seeks recognition of separate sovereignty,
nationality and citizenship under a doctrine of ethnic segregation
and political confederacy (including a desired local power of
nullification over Federal law).
Conversely, Congressional supporters of commonwealth must define
the terms and policies under which it will be allowed to continue,
and also explain why Puerto Ricans should not concern themselves
with the fact that commonwealth provides only a constitutionally
temporary political and citizenship status which a future Congress
can alter at will.
TO FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PLEBISCITE RESULTS: THE
IMPLICATIONS FOR THE FUTURE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES
AND PUERTO RICO
1)Why Was This Plebiscite Even Held?
Wasn't There One In 1993?
The 1993 Puerto Rican plebiscite left unresolved the island's
political status, continuing for a century US rule over this American
territory acquired in the Spanish-American War of 1898. The 1998
plebiscite sought to resolve this issue by offering Puerto Rico's
voters status options that are constitutionally capable of implementation.
2) Getting Back To The 1993 Plebiscite,
Why Was The Plebiscite Necessary As The Commonwealth Option Won
Not true. The commonwealth status quo was not on the ballot
in 1993. An 'enhanced' commonwealth definition was on the ballot
and it only prevailed by a plurality.
This was the first time since 1952 in which a majority of Puerto
Rico's voters rejected the status quo or any form thereof. Moreover,
the winning formula could not be given full credence because it
contained proposals that were unconstitutional including permanent
union with the US and a guarantee of American citizenship, both
of which can only be achieved through statehood.
3) Well Then, Who Won This Time?
Of the legitimate status options as defined by Congress consistent
with the constitution -- the territorial status quo, i.e.,
commonwealth, free association, independence and statehood --
statehood prevailed or 'won' with 46.5 percent of the vote.
4) How Can You Say That, Didn't "None
Of The Above" Get Over 50 Percent?
It's true that 'None of the Above' received 50.2 percent but
that was not for a legitimate status option but rather it
represented an amalgam of protest votes against the current administration,
voters who supported the same discredited 1993 definition of commonwealth
which was not on the ballot this time for reasons of legality
and, finally, those among the electorate who weren't happy with
any of the legitimate options offered.
5) I Don't Get It, What's This 'None
Of The Above' Option About?
In 1993 the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled that this option
must be offered to voters who do not prefer any of the others
presented in a status plebiscite. For example, some might want
Puerto Rico returned to Spanish rule or for the territory to become
politically a part of another state (e.g., New York or Florida)
or, even another territory (e.g., Virgin Islands).
6) Didn't The Pro-Commonwealth Party,
The PDP, Support This Option, Therefore Shouldn't It's 'Victory'
Represent A Commonwealth Win?
No. The PDP normally would've backed commonwealth status, but
it refused to recognize the legitimate congressionally
approved definition in the plebiscite, claiming that the discredited
1993 definition should apply and therefore it directed its party
members to vote against all the options by selecting 'None of
7) Then Why Didn't The PDP Put Forth
Its Own Plebiscite Definition To Either Congress Or The Puerto
They claimed that the definition in 1993 plebiscite was accurate
even though it was rejected when, in 1998, the US House of Representatives
passed HR 856. The PDP presented their own new definition only
after the congressional vote on HR 856 and after Puerto Rico enacted
the 1998 plebiscite law.
Regardless, their new definition has been called a 'warmed
over version' of the same constitutionally defective 1993 option.
8) Well Then, Wasn't Statehood Defeated
For The Second Time In Five Years?
No. It's true statehood came in second in 1993 but the winning
formula -- 'enhanced' commonwealth -- was deemed to be constitutionally
defective by Congress and so the 1998 plebiscite was held in which
only legitimate congressionally approved definitions were included.
Among the four legitimate definitions in the 1998 plebiscite
statehood came out on top.
9) But Isn't Governor Rossello Claiming
That Statehood Was An Outright Winner In 1998?
True. But on the basis of which among the four legitimate political
status options received the most votes, he's right.
10) Why Shouldn't We Respect The Will
Of The Majority And Do Nothing About Status For A While?
The will of the majority, no, matter how it's measured -- even
with counting the "None of the Above' vote -- demonstrates
that almost 100 percent of Puerto Ricans reject the current territorial
commonwealth status. Therefore, another federally sponsored plebiscite
must be held in which legitimate status options are defined by
Congress and the voters of Puerto Rico choose among them.
11) Why Do You Want Congress To Act
Or Intervene In The Plebiscite Process? Shouldn't It Be Left Up
To Puerto Rico?
The status issue is, unfortunately, tied up in local politics
in Puerto Rico and the ballot process allows any of the parties
to use the referendum for their own purposes rather than for permanently
resolving Puerto Rico's future relationship with the US.
In 1993, each of the parties defined their own status option
and commonwealth proponents put in a definition that was
legally and constitutionally incapable of implementation. In 1998,
although only congressionally approved definitions
were included, local law required a 'None of the Above' option
which was used mainly by commonwealth supporters to subvert the
plebiscite and to deny victory to a legitimate status choice.
Thus, if left up to Puerto Rico, once again, we can expect
repeats of the 1993 and 1998 experiences.
12) What Do You Want Congress To Do?
Only Congress can legislate a federal plebiscite with legitimate
options and preclude a "None of the Above' alternative from
the plebiscite process.
This is the only feasible method that will ultimately lead
to full self-government for Puerto Rico and permanent resolution
of its relationship with the US.
A new legitimate political status supported by a majority of
the territory's electorate must be determined as less than a majority
of Puerto Ricans approved the commonwealth status quo (in effect
since 1952) in the 1993 plebiscite, and nearly 100 percent of
the electorate rejected it in the 1998 plebiscite.
14) Frankly, Isn't This Effort To
Get Federal Plebiscite Legislation Academic Since Gov. Rossello
Has Decided Not To Seek A Third Term In 1999?
Not at all.
Rossello's pro-statehood party has nominated Carlos Pesquera,
the current Secretary of Transportation and Public Works, to run
for governor in 1999.
Pesquera has vowed to follow the lead of Gov. Rossello and
seek entry into the Union for Puerto Rico as the fifty-first state.
In fact, Pesquera on becoming the NPP's official gubernatorial
candidate, pledged to work from Day One after his election to
hold a new status plebiscite and secure from the new107th Congress
a promise to act on its results.
15) Isn't This Simply A Way Of Trying
To Force Statehood On Puerto Ricans Who Simply Don't Want It Just
To Insure Their Permanent American Citizenship And Permanent Ties
With The US?
No. While it's true that more than 97 percent of Puerto Ricans
want both these ties with the US and statehood is the only legal
status that can guarantee their perpetuity, it's also true that
the present commonwealth status, territorial in nature, can provide
these American attributes currently even though Congress, constitutionally,
can alter or amend Puerto Rico's and Puerto Rican's relationship
with the US in the future.
Moreover, Congressional power over Puerto Rico is absolute;
for example, even without calling for a plebiscite it could unilaterally
declare Puerto Rico independent under the Territorial Clause.
16) Wouldn't This Plebiscite Legislation
Discriminate Against Commonwealth?
Wrong: Commonwealth backers would have you believe it would
because their flawed definition of commonwealth would be excluded
from the ballot.
The truth: Puerto Rico can only aspire to a legitimate internationally
recognized political status. Moreover, if Puerto Ricans wish to
retain permanent US citizenship and permanent ties with the US
they must choose a status that can be reconciled with the US Constitution.
Territorial commonwealth, the status quo, is both impermanent
and not recognized under international law. To boot, enhanced
commonwealth suffers further infirmities, it is not a legitimate
status under the US Constitution.
17) Why Is It So Important To Act
On New Plebiscite Legislation Now?
Under the constitution territorial status is temporary and
100 years as an American possession is hardly a short time for
a permanent status for Puerto Rico to be determined. The current
status is no longer supported by a majority of Puerto Rico's residents
according to both the 1993 and 1998 plebiscite's.
Further, American taxpayers cannot be expected to indefinitely
continue subsidizing Puerto Rico's commonwealth at the rate of
$10 billion a year, and growing, without any permanent status
solution in sight.
It's time for Congress to end the discussion that goes back
as far as the 1989 congressional legislative initiatives on how
to proceed and to finally resolve the U.S. Puerto Rico relationship
18) What's In It For The American
People In The Fifty States?
Resolution of Puerto Rico's political status should be welcomed
by all Americans.
An independent of freely associated Puerto Rican nation will
relieve the annual $10 billion Puerto Rico federal subsidy borne
by US citizens.
Full self-government -- independence, free association or statehood
-- for Puerto Rico will remove the hypocrisy of America preaching
self-determination to the world's peoples all the while harboring
the largest colony within its own sovereign back yard.
19) What's In It For The People Of
Self-determination and full self-government will finally, after
400 years of Spanish rule and 100 of American, offer Puerto Rico's
3.8 million U.S. citizens the opportunity to determine their own
political future as part of the U.S or as an independent nation.
They need to shed their second class citizenship and be able
to vote for the president of the U.S and elect voting members
of Congress if Puerto Rico becomes a state.
Or, they will be the masters of their own fate if independence
or free association is chosen.
In both cases, they will no longer be politically disenfranchised
or denied the full rights of their citizenship.
Finally, independence or statehood will provide a better way
of life as a result of accelerated economic growth and increased
per capita income.
20) Why Should Republicans Support
First, it's a matter of principle as the party has supported
Puerto Rico self-determination for over 40 years.
Every Republican president -- Eisenhower to Nixon to Ford to
Reagan to Bush -- has supported Puerto Rico self-determination.
The national Republican Party's platforms have, since 1972,
called for Puerto Rico self-determination. In 1996, it said: "We
endorse initiatives of the congressional Republican leadership
to provide for Puerto Rico's smooth transition to statehood if
its citizens choose to alter their current status, or to set them
on their own path to become an independent nation."
Finally, as Ralph Reed stated "It's only fitting that
a Republican Congress should give the people of Puerto Rico what
so many Republican presidents sought to achieve a way to
determine for themselves the government they should have."
21) What's In It Politically For The
Republican Party If It Passes Plebiscite Legislation?
Politically, passage of the legislation can help Republicans
among the 30 million mainland Hispanic Americans. Increased appeal
to this group raised Republican votes among Hispanic Americans
to 37 percent in 1998 from 27 percent in the 1996 elections.
Hispanics will soon be the nation's largest minority (2005)
and key to winning critical electoral votes in states like California,
Arizona, Texas and Florida. Without capturing a sizeable percentage
of the Hispanic American vote, the White House in 2000 may be
out of reach.
As evidence of Hispanic's importance to the party, Republicans
can lay claims to statehouse victories in Texas (George W. Bush
won with over 40 percent of the Hispanic vote) and Florida (where
Jeb Bush was similarly supported heavily by Hispanics) at the
doorstep of the Hispanics voting bloc.
In contrast, losses of the governoship in California and a
senate seat in New York were solely due to the party's poor showing
with this group where 80 percent went to the Democrat candidate-winners.
If the Republican Party wants to be the New Majority Party
it has no choice but to reach out to Hispanic Americans by passing
Puerto Rico self-determination plebiscite legislation
As Ralph Reed said, "The Republican Party stands today on
the threshold of sweeping political success. To achieve the successwe
must demonstrate that our party is the natural home to millions
of Hispanic Americans and is the true representative of their
ideals and valuesWe have an opportunity to begin this outreach
22) Why Should The Republican Controlled
Congress Help Puerto Rico's Republican Party?
The Puerto Rico Republican Party was founded in 1902 (78 years
before the Democrats started up on the island) by Dr. Jose Celso
Barbosa, the Forefather of Statehood for Puerto Rico. As early
as 1928, the party won control of both houses of the legislature.
Poll after poll finds strong Puerto Rico identification with
traditional Republican values: fiscally conservative, family oriented,
pro-life, very religious.
The Puerto Rico Republican Party has been a major supporter
of the national party. In the 1996 presidential primary Bob Dole's
victory there re-energized his campaign sending him on to the
Finally, the ruling statehood New Progressive Party (NPP) initiatives
go beyond Republican mainland goals including: implementation
of public company privatization's, a moment of meditation at the
start of the school day, the Charter School concept, reductions
in capital gains and income tax rates and in the government workforce.
23) If Republicans Enact A New Plebiscite
Bill And Puerto Rico Became A State, Wouldn't It Elect Democratic
Senators And Representatives Threatening The Republican's Control
The statistics prove otherwise. A majority of members of the
Puerto Rico legislature are Republicans and 68 percent of the
island's mayors are, too.
The Democratic Party of Puerto Rico has never elected a single
officeholder as a Democrat.
Moreover, a Center for Research and Public Policy poll found
that the people of Puerto Rico share the party's conservative
values: they are pro-family, anti-abortion, endorse school vouchers,
favor school prayer and harsh prison terms for perpetrators of
violent crimes and crimes against children and support a conservative
lifestyle opposing state recognition of homosexual lifestyles.
As Ralph Reed pointed out, "If Puerto Rico became a state
tomorrow and congressional elections were held, we would expect
that Republicans would fare very well."
24) What Do Republicans And The Republican
Party Have To Gain By Passing Plebiscite Legislation?
Credibility and with it the potential to recapture their traditional
share of the Hispanic American vote in critical states -- in local
and national races as well as the White House -- in 2000.
Taking a major step toward building their New Majority Party
status by demonstrating the Republican Party's big tent appeal
-- inclusiveness -- to all comers.
25) Why Should Democrats Support This
It's a matter of principle.
Diminished margins in the House and the Senate, perhaps control,
and loss of key gubernatorial races and the White House in 2000.
The President said that the 'none of the above' vote was not
a win for a clear status choice, implying that a Federal referendum
was necessary to finally resolve the matter.
26) What's In It Politically For The
Democratic Party If It Passes Plebiscite Legislation?
Politically, passage of the legislation will shore up the Democrats
strength among the 30 million mainland Hispanic Americans, 6 million
of whom voted by a nearly 73 percent margin for Democrats in 1996,
but fell to 63 percent in 1998.
The prospect of a George W. Bush candidacy in 2000 could further
challenge Democratic support among Hispanics, soon to be the nation's
largest minority (2005). After all, he cut into the Hispanic vote
in Texas in the 1998 gubernatorial campaign winning over 40 percent
of this vote.
Therefore, in order to retain the White House in 2000 the party
must show its support for this issue, which is backed by over
a hundred Hispanic American organizations. After all, this bloc
is the key to winning critical electoral votes in states like
California, Arizona, Texas and Florida.
Without retaining the party's traditional and sizeable percentage
of the Hispanic American vote, the White House in 2000 may be
out of reach.
Furthermore, winning the governorships in California and Senate
seat in New York in 1998 were due to the party's top flight showing
with this group where over 80 percent went to the Democrat candidate-winners.
Again, the key to winning back control of the House and Senate
in 2000 may well rest with keeping the Hispanic voters going for
the Democrats. Puerto Rico self-determination is a number one
issue with this group and, furthermore, supporting federal plebiscite
legislation will help offset efforts by Republicans to attract
Hispanics to their tickets at the local, state and national levels.
27) What Else Do Democrats And The
Democratic Party Have To Gain By Passing Plebiscite Legislation?
The opportunity to deny Republicans a significant chance to
make inroads in this traditional Democratic bastion of voter strength.
As the Hispanic population becomes the biggest minority in
the U.S. the future of American politics will change dramatically
over the next twenty years. The party that can appeal permanently
to this group will be well on its way to dominating the political
landscape in the first half of the new millennia.
Democrats can not afford to cede this group or this issue to
28) What Do Republicans and Democrats
Risk Losing By Not Passing Puerto Rico Self-Determination Legislation?
Long term: Credibility within the Hispanic American community
and other minority groups throughout the country.
Short term: Diminished margins in the House and the Senate,
perhaps control, and loss of key gubernatorial and local races
and the White House in 2000.